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Father's Day 06/19/2016

Posted 3:52 PM by

Two women met walking down the street. One had a brown paper bag under her arm. The other asked, "What do you have in the bag?" "A bottle of scotch. I got it for my husband."  "Good trade!"

It’s Fathers’ Day, so I hope all you folks will treat your fathers and husbands with extra care and love.  Fathering these days is not an easy role to play.

We don’t know if the men in our scriptures are dads – they could be.  (Some might say that the fact that both of them are at their wits’ end would be a good sign….)  In Luke, Jesus pulls his boat up on shore and encounters a very disturbed man.  He came from the city, but now he is completely alienated from society – the story tells us that all the usual signs of living in community are absent from this poor man’s life: he doesn’t wear clothes, he lives in a graveyard, he thrashes about and scares people, he breaks loose from any attempts to shackle him.  He is a wild man, and he is possessed by evil spirits – demons, and lots of them. 

Some of us men today may feel a secret kinship with this fellow – we are trying to live up to expectations in a highly ordered, demanding world, and we’re not sure we are up to it.  Our sense of alienation – of not fitting in – may be on the inside rather than the outside….  We may feel shackled in less obvious ways than this guy, but shackled nonetheless – by jobs and mortgages and lawns and commutes and inlaws and tuition and quotas to meet and soccer to coach….

So how does Jesus relate to this man?  First, Jesus has to deal with the evil spirits.  In fact, they recognize Jesus as a danger and they address him.  Jesus demands to know their name (an assertion of his authority over them).  They confess their name is “Legion,” for they are many.  The demons know they are beaten; they ask to be released into a nearby herd of pigs, and Jesus permits this.  The pigs indicate this is not Jewish territory.  Jesus is freeing people from outside his own religious tradition – and the demons are responding!

Somehow, knowing the presence of God in Jesus sets this man aright. After his liberation, the man is restored to his humanity, his dignity – he is clothed, sitting quietly, in his right mind.  Jesus has given him a second chance, a new life, a fresh start.  What a gift!  How will he use this gift?  What will his new life look like?  Jesus asks only, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” 

Aha!  So he has a home to return to – maybe a spouse, and maybe some children who need their dad, who missed him in his craziness.  Jesus only asks that God be praised for this transformation…because the source of all our transformations from death to life is from God. 

Elijah is the other troubled man in our lessons today.  We know him as a tough, gruff prophet of Yahweh, who battles the drift in his society, in Israel, away from Yahweh toward worshipping other Gods – Baal in particular.  Elijah has just had a big success defeating all the prophets of Baal – there was lots of drama, fire, and then victory.   And yet, he has sunk into despair.  Queen Jezebel promises to kill Elijah within 24 hours.  Elijah runs scared.  Then, stepping out of time, Elijah has a “Moses moment” with God.  All the Moses signs are there: forty days in the wilderness, a journey up a mountain, and finally, meeting God. 

And how does he meet God?  Not in a dramatic, showy moment…emphatically not.  We’re told there was a great wind, but no God.  There was an earthquake, but no God.  There was a fire, but no God.  Finally, there was “a sound of sheer silence,” or in a better-known translation, “a still, small voice.”  And when Elijah heard that, when he settled down and listened, there was God. God was present.  Elijah’s fears were swallowed up in God’s greatness.  His despair was overshadowed by God’s faithfulness.  His anger was overcome by God’s love and peace.  God gave Elijah a second chance, a new life, a fresh start.  What a gift! 

Elijah continued his life faithful to God, but more grounded in God’s love and peace.  He would, in the end, have the special honor of being swept up into heaven on a chariot of fire!  Not a bad way to go! 

What can we take away from these stories

Being a man has never been easy, and it isn’t easy today.  No matter what our situation may be, in terms of family, work, lifestyle, we face many demons that can pull us off course – especially if we are trying to follow the path of Jesus.  Elijah was attracted to the way of violence; in the end that path proved to be a dead end.  Only the whisper of God could restore him.  The man with demons may have sought his salvation by running away from home and community; he found nothing but frustration and alienation.  He was freed by the healing touch, the loving embrace of Jesus.  Knowing that God was with them; that made all the difference.

So let us pray for all our dads and father-figures, trying to do their best in a changing world, sometimes overwhelmed and crazed by its demands.  May they still hold fast to that which is good: our God-given values of reverence for God, and love of neighbor, of peace.  I’ve come to accept and honor my own dad more and more, not because he was perfect or was a hero in some way, but because he kept trying, kept loving, kept engaging – even when at times he suffered from some pretty destructive demons.

For myself, I try to be a dad who’s loving and dependable, who celebrates what my children are and what they seek to do in life, and who holds up values of love, mercy, and compassion.  I try not to endorse the world’s values – money, prestige, winning at all costs – with Maggie and Colin.  At times I fail miserably in this. 

Friday at lunch, Leslie and I had a waiter whom Leslie has gotten to know.  Kenny proudly announced that he and his girlfriend had their baby two weeks ago.  Many photos were shared of the tiny blonde, Laura Mae.  Kenny said he thought it was time to get married, and I inwardly rejoiced that a stable new family would be formed for that little blonde girl.  Here’s a new dad, working as a waiter, suffering from lack of sleep, and yet overjoyed to have the opportunity to share in God’s creative work as a dad.

May God bless Kenny in his new vocation as a dad, and all of us who are fathers, and all our dads, who have loved and struggled with their demons as we do with ours.  May we know the presence of God in our lives, and find our rest in Jesus, in that still, small voice of calm.  AMEN.  


 

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Pride Sunday 06/12/2016

Posted 5:59 PM by

We gathered on June 12 to celebrate the inclusive love of God for all of us, marking Pride Sunday in the LGBTQ community. Our observance became poignant with the tragic news that morning of 50 people being killed in a shooting rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Our hearts go out to all who suffer violence and hatred, simply based on who they are and whom they love. JBM

A little story:

A tourist arrives at a restaurant and is told there are no tables available. "What if the President arrived. Would you have a table for him?" he asks. "Of course!" replies the hotel staff. The tourist responds, "Well, the President isn't coming. I'll take his table."

“For everyone born, a place at the table.” 

Since I first heard this wonderful song, these words have haunted me…in a good way!  In 8 words, they capture the essence of the Kingdom of God, the Way of Jesus.  And in such gentle terms.

It’s often said that our Jewish forbears are people of the book, and that is true.  Christians are too; but even moreso, we are people of the table.  Not just any table, but the welcome table, the banquet table where everybody’s invited.  Where hungry people are fed.  Where lonely people find company.  Where hurting people find comfort and support.  Where those who thirst are satisfied.  Where we find Jesus. 

I have a lot of images for this table in my head:

  • My mother-in-law’s Thanksgiving Day table – extended to include anybody who showed up, needed a great meal and an extra helping of love.
  • Hogwarts, where Harry Potter went to train as a wizard, where he first felt at home and loved, where the banquet tables in the Great Hall were magically filled with delicious things to eat, where the food never ran out. 
  • Our own parish hall, where hundreds are fed with sandwiches each month, where parishioners young and old gather for meals, simple to fancy. 
  • And of course, this altar table, where we meet Christ in bread and wine. 

“For everyone born, a place at the table.” 

Let’s take a look at today’s Gospel – it’s all about the table.  Look in your Bibles for Luke 14:12-23.  It should be on page _______in the pew Bibles.  In verse 12, Jesus advises his hearers to invite all kinds of people when they have a dinner – poor people, disabled people, marginalized people.  Then Jesus tells a well-known parable about a man who held a great banquet.  When all was ready, the invited guests decided not to come.  They gave a lot of excuses.

The banquet host then throws open his banquet to all in the town – whoever wants to come in.  They do, but there is still room.  So the host sends word to all in the countryside, far and wide…until the banquet hall is full of people.  In verse 23, the host even says to “compel” people to come in, that my house may be filled…a bit of hyperbole, I’m sure, but we get the point!

The trigger for this parable is revealing.  Back in verse 15, one of the dinner guests sitting with Jesus made a strange exclamation:  “Blessed is the one who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  That remark tells us that this parable is about God’s Kingdom…about how God welcomes all people and longs for his banquet table to be full.  “For everyone born, a place at the table.” 

So, I haven’t even mentioned Pride Sunday, and our sisters and brothers (and ourselves) who are Lesbian or Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, our just questioning their identity in some way.  Why?  Because the issues of inclusion, of hospitality and welcome, of equality -  these are all Kingdom values for all of us.  It’s not just about LGBTQ folks; it’s a core value for all of us who follow Jesus.  The banquet is for everybody. 

In Jesus’ day, it was lepers who were set apart and shunned from society.  Jesus marched up to them, named the real disease, which was prejudice, and healed it with the grace of inclusion.  In 19th century America, the issue was the enslavement of fellow human beings.  The followers of Jesus, finally, named that sin of inequality and cruelty – a sin which ran utterly contrary to our founding values! -  and banished it – at great cost - from our nation.  In order to move away from these sins, we must name them, acknowledge them. 

In our own lifetimes, we have overturned more stereotypes and prejudices – those against other races, against equality for women, against disabled people, and now, against gay people.  In order to move away from these sins, we must name them, acknowledge them, and set out to undo – to repent from – the attitudes and structures which have kept them alive in our society.

At the end of the day, Jesus calls us to a new ethic, a Kingdom ethic.  You can describe it in several ways:

  • Love your neighbor as yourself.  (And love of self means we can take pride in who we are: beloved creatures of God!)
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 
  • For everyone born, a place at the table

Or, if you prefer, the stunning, powerful words of St. Paul from the book of Romans (and this is the same Paul who said a couple of nasty things about gay people!):

“For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor thins present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

I’d say that about covers it.  AMEN.  


 

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